By: Eddie Weekley (aka: baller7345)
Simulation or freestyle? This is a question that will typically define a Madden player. The debate over which is the correct way to play the game is one that has caused gamers on both sides of the line to find their palms and their faces meeting far more often than is healthy, but today we are going to look at it differently. What exactly is the difference between the two playstyles and how does that create the schism that exists between Madden players today?
To begin, I feel a little background on who exactly is handing you their personal opinion on the matter. In the Madden world I go by baller7345 and anyone who visits Madden School regularly can tell you I’m one of if not the biggest sim head out there. I eat, breathe, and have been tempted to sleep with football. I love just about every aspect of the game and adore the nuances that make it a chess game in cleats. I’m just as likely going to be found reading an article from a football site as I am to be reading an article from a Madden site. As you can expect I have my own issues with the freestyle crowd but unlike many of my sim brethren I’m not going to crucify them for them for playing this glitch ridden game as they please. I’ve been playing Madden since Madden 98 (for me it was Madden 64), before that I played Joe Montana Football since the time I was 4 years old and got my first consoles. From then on out I was hooked, and while I may have had a limited understanding of the game other than what the main goal was and that it was really cool I enjoyed it. I didn’t get into the online crowd until Madden 10 due to the fact that I live in WV and to top it off I live in the middle of nowhere in WV which left me without any means to connect to the online world until I went off to college. It was here I was finally introduce to the schism that existed between players in this grand game of virtual football that we all seem to be drawn too each and every August. I won’t go into my personal issues with the freestyle side of the game as it will serve no purpose in this article however I feel it is important to at least know that I’ve been around the block a time or two and am not some Madden rookie that doesn’t know what he is talking about. This isn’t my first rodeo.
With that out of the way let’s get down to the main point, how exactly can two players playing the same game be so at odds with each other that it leads to the internet version of a fist fight at regular intervals thoughout the Madden year. In my opinion it comes down to 4 things: execution, results, how we as Madden players want to win, and how we as Madden players view the game.
Let’s get started with the one I believe is the most important in understanding the difference between sim and freestyle players. Execution refers to how things play out on the field and how a particular end result is achieved. I’ll use how each playstyles attacks man coverage as the example of where this comes into play. Starting with the sim aspect as it is what I have the most experience with, when I see man coverage I have several different options I can go with on a play. These options come in the form of tried and tested passing concepts that any football coach would recommend if they had to beat man coverage. I could attack it using Mesh which creates a pick situation to free up a receiver on a shallow route, I can throw slants and force the corner backs to cheat inside or give up the quick pass every down, I can throw a concept that uses motion to get a WR running at full speed at snap such as Flanker Drive that Bill Walsh made famous, I can even attempt to simply isolate my best receiver against the other team’s cornerback in order to maximize my chances of beating the one on one coverage. The main thing that comes up with all of these is that they are based completely in real life football logic and strategy; there is very little gaminess to these particular tactics. The execution of all of these tactics can be applied to a real football field and many times with similar success.
Now let’s analyze the freestyle outlook against man coverage. Freestyle gamers will use any of the above techniques if they feel they are effective enough. However, if they find some sort of exploit such as man switches, rocket catching, face throws, motion hikes, etc. they will gladly take these and utilize them in order to beat their opponent. These kinds of tactics by and far aren’t grounded in real life football strategy but instead take a more gamey approach to Madden. They play the game not the sport in the case of execution and they don’t care if their tactics apply to the game of football as long as the way they are executed in Madden gives them positive results.
The second aspect that ends up differentiating sim players between freestyle players is the results. Sim players and freestyle players both want consistent results however the kind of results that both players want is very much different. A sim player wants coverages to react realistically and consistently to the offense and because of that they want core concepts that beat coverages such as Smash vs. cover 2 or Curl Flats vs. Cover 3 to work consistently. They also wish to have positive results if they call the right defense to get their players into position while anything that gets results that are overly effective and difficult to defend on offense as an unacceptable result (nanos, curl routes in Madden 09, slot seams in Madden 12, etc.). Sim players cringe at anything that has results that defy conventional football knowledge as they believe it is something that should be avoided like the plague. They want nothing to do with it and do not care that it is effective in the game because it doesn’t work like that in real life. My own abhorrence of slant outs and my refusal to use them in Madden 12 is a perfect example of this outlook.
The freestyle player will look at results a bit differently, they’ll readily accept the same results a sim player such as four verticals beating cover 3 every single time if read correctly but they’ll also readily accept results of plays or routes that have a super human effectiveness in the game. They’ll gladly see the game as a game and look at 3 man nano blitzes, slant outs in Madden 12, audible boosting, the shake blitz (though this is one of the more debated tactics), rocket catching out routes, face throws, etc. as tactics that differentiate the good players from the bad players. They may even see the absurdity of the effectiveness of some of their own tactics but because it’s the game they have no problem using the most effective tactics to get the most effective, though not always the most realistic, results.
We now reach the third area that differentiates sim players and freestyle players; How each style of player wants to win. First and foremost let’s dispel the myth that sim players do not play to win. Trust me I am easily one of the most competitive people I know and I go into each and every game tying my hardest to win and will do anything I can to win up to a point. As a sim player I will do everything in my power to win as long as it falls within something that would work in real football. If you can’t handle pressure I’m going to throw a litany of zone and man blitzes at you. I’ll send overload stunts, cross fire blitzes, and even throw safety and corner back overloads to achieve my ends. These all can get pressure in Madden while still maintaining a grasp on the real football strategy behind each one of them. If you insist on running Cover 3 against me all game without adjusting be prepared to see a ton of Four Verticals and Flood Concepts and I may very well run a particular concept multiple times in a row if you refuse to change your defense. However, when it comes to using something like a man switch or a ghost route to beat man defense or beating zone though spectacular catching or face throws, I simply won’t use them because they don’t have an equivalent in real life football. A quarterback wouldn’t take the field and look at his receiver and say, I”’m going to throw it you need to use your bambi catch to catch the ball against this three deep look.” It is much more important for me to maintain the ties to real football than it is for me to utilize these tactics to win. I will still try my damndest to win the game but you’ll never see me start going to the latest YouTube tactic just to win at Madden.
Freestyle players on the other hand have no problem doing just what I have issues with. If it helps them win they will utilize it and not think twice about how it breaks the integrity of real football. While both sim and freestyle players play very much to win, the freestyle player is more likely to adopt the win at any cost persona even if that means doing things that could be questionable and may even be deemed cheating such as turbo blitzing (which is banned in tournaments) but there are plenty of players out there that will utilize it in a random online game without thinking twice about it. They tend to fit the bill of “If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying” much more than their sim counterparts and tend to embrace this style of play. While sim players may preach up and down this is the cause of all evil in the Madden world, the fact still remains that each player is allowed to play the game as they see fit and in that mold what the average freestyle player utilizes to win is perfectly within their rights to use.
Finally what this entire issue boils down to is how both styles of player view the game of Madden. This is a big reason why the previous three aspects that differentiate players exist in the first place. Sim players see the game as an extension of what they see on Sunday, they wish to play football before they play a game. They want Madden to reflect real world football to a T, if it doesn’t work in real life it shouldn’t work in Madden. If a player is terrible in real life they shouldn’t be a great player in Madden (Taylor Mays I’m talking to you). They want realistic results from their game and if something gets in the way of their realism they refuse to utilize it. Freestyle players want realism as well however they see Madden as a game before they see it as football. They are willing to live with the absurdity of some of their tactics and they will gladly sacrifice realism for a more effective strategy in the game that they play. While realism may be the end goal both players seek, how they play the game is vastly different due to their general outlook on how each individual views the game of Madden. Sim players view it as football first while freestyle players view it as a game first. This is the single most important thing that causes a schism between the two playstyles and is the main deciding factor in determining the difference between each of the playstyles. We all may be Madden players but we all do not view the game under the same light.
Feel free to add your own input in the comments, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m slightly biased towards the sim style of play so if you feel differently than me in any aspect of this article go ahead and let me know.